Date Month 1997


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Redraw the boundaries

As the proposed devolution proposals and more particularly the unit of devolution becoms increasingly a hotly debated topic, we begin today a serialisation of the proceedings of the seminar Towards Rational Provincial Boundaries held in 1995, jointly by the Surveyors' Institute of Sri Lanka and the OPA.

By Prof. Shelton Kodikara

I do not claim to be an expert on the evolu- tion of rational provincial boundaries in Sri Lanka but, having received an invitation to participate in this Seminar, I did look up a few books, in order to give you some idea of the historical evolution of provincial boundaries from the time of the British period since 1833.

I may say that I have often been saying in my writings and talks on the subject of the ethnic issue in Sri Lanka, that the provincial boundaries that we inherited from the British should not be treated as something sanctimonious because the British had their own reasons for demarcating provincial boundaries. I shall quote to you from Lennox Mill's book and also from Prof. K. M. de Silva's book relating to the early organisation of the provincial boundaries by the British to show that they had their own reasons why they organised the provincial boundaries as they did at that particular time.

I have been addressing myself towards the rationalization of provincial boundaries mainly in the context of devolution of political power in Sri Lanka, and I have been often saying, - I have published articles in the press also - that the nine provinces should be reduced to five. The reason why I have been saying that is this: if you are going to have devolution of power, you should have devolution of power in larger units than obtain at present. Of course, we have at the same time an entity called the North Eastern Province. How permanent this entity is going to be is left for the future to decide. A Referendum has been scheduled to decide the question of the merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Whether or not the Referendum will take place - as you know it has been postponed already five times - and whether it will take place in the foreseeable future, is a little uncertain. But, taking as a fait accompli the fact that there is such a thing as the North-East merger now, one had to address one's self to the question whether the present provincial boundaries in the rest of the country should remain as they are or should be re-defined. I am one of those who hold the view that they should be re-defined.

In a map of Sri Lanka in 1815, when there was such an entity called the Kandyan Kingdom, you will find that basically some of the provinces have been organised on the basis of particularly the Eastern Province. This is what the British inherited. In 1816 that was the kind of map that was there. There was the Kandyan Kingdom and there was the rest of the country. Then we have the Colebrook Cameron setup with a five provinces formula. There you will find that a large portion of what previously was the Kandyan Province has been integrated into adjoining provinces. You find Nuwara Palawiya, Tamankaduwa adjoining the Northern and Eastern Provinces, and the Central Province itself being reduced in size.

Then, in 1845 a new province called the North Western Province was created, and in 1873 the number of provinces was increased to seven with the creation of the North Central Province in addition to the North Western Province. The North Central Province was composed of the Kandyan districts of Nuwara Palaviya, Tamankaduwa and Demalapattuwa. The inhabitants were Kandyans who had hitherto been incorporated in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

Subsequently, in 1886, a separate province was created in Uva and in 1889 a separate province was created in Sabaragamuwa, bringing the number of provinces to nine, which was what we inherited at the time of Independence in 1946. I would like to quote from Prof. K. M. de Silva on this subject because in 1873 for the first time there was a departure in British policy from one of trying to attenuate the Kandyan provinces into trying to create provinces on the basis of socio-economic development. This happened in 1873 when the North Central Province was created in Governor Gregory's time. This is what Prof. K. M. de Silva says:

"Governor Gregory's administration was notable for one other development in administrative policy, a reversal of the older policy of using changes in provincial boundaries to break up the unity of the Kandyan provinces. When the North Central Province was created during his administration, the reasons Gregory gave for his establishment seem in retrospect, a damning condemnation of the principles behind Colebrook's redrawing of the boundaries of 1833."

And he gave the reasons as follows - he quotes Gregory here:

"The wretched state of this huge extent of country, its totally neglected condition, the impossibility of a Government Agent residing at Jaffna, the northern part of the Island, being able to supervise the immediate improvement necessary, and last but not least, the fact that this portion of the Northern Province was Kandyan in its population, whereas to the North it was Tamil, and generally ruled by a Government Agent who was more conversant with Tamils than the Sinhalese.

"These changes in provincial boundaries stretching over the years from 1873 to 1889 when the number became nine, gave expression to the fact that the Kandyan problem in a sense of a traditional nationalism, guided by an aristocratic leadership had ceased to be a serious threat to the continued stability of British Rule. Thus the policy that had prevailed since 1833 was abandoned only because the political fact on which it was based had lost its validity."

So, the point that is made here is that for the larger part of the 19th Century, the re-drawing of provincial boundaries had a political motivation. I, for one, do not see in the present context of the devolution of power and the establishment of provincial councils, why we should have separate provinces for those two areas, for example. I think that Sabaragamuwa should be rejoined with the Western Province.

If governmental authorities are serious about re-structuring provincial boundaries, the first thing they should do is to appoint a Boundaries Commission. That Commission should go into the question of how and why provincial boundaries should be re-structured.

I am addressing myself to this question of re-structuring of provincial boundaries partly, as I said before, in the context that there is a fait accompli, something we now refer to as the Northeastern Province. This is going to be either permanent or temporary. Even if it is temporary I still think that there is a need for a re-structuring of provincial boundaries. If it is going to be permanent, then the need for re-structuring is going to be all the more, based on the fact that devolution of power will have to be made to places like Sabaragamuwa, Uva and so on, as the boundaries are structured now. I know I am getting into difficulties with the people who are in power in those areas who might feel that they do not want to give up the present status they enjoy. But, we are here in an academic assembly; we are talking about the matters purely from an academic point of view and not a political one. In any case, this is what I feel.

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